The Nuts and Bolts of Consciousness
by Gibran Shah

“Both the philosophically minded and those that have any interest in the mind-matter relationship will find themselves fascinated with the theory advanced in this well-conceived book.”
-Cathy Reyes, Lawyer

“The most insightful and compelling ideas are generated by those following a path they are passionate about. The Nuts and Bolts of Consciousness is the result of a relentless passion for the search for a solution to the mind and matter problem.”
-Darren Hamilton, Philosopher, Lawyer, Psychologist, Computer Scientist

Bits and Bites


“It is important to note, for the sake of this discussion, that my use of the term ‘nonphysical’ here is not an appeal to dualism—the Cartesian theory that there are essentially two distinct and separate entities or substances to our being, namely, the body (or brain), which is physical, and the mind (or consciousness), which is not—but rather harkens to our mode of being intimately acquainted with consciousness/mind. In other words, I use ‘nonphysical’ as a description of how consciousness and our mental content seem to us, for that is how we know our minds most intimately. It is the mind as we are acquainted with it that must be explained, and if physicalism is correct that the mind is indeed exhaustively physical, then we need an explanation of why this is not reflected in our experience.”

“If we did experience our minds and consciousness as neurological phenomena, we’d have figured out all of the brain sciences soon after the dawning of our species—because introspection would have been all that we needed. But it was only during the last century that we began to understand the workings of the brain in significant detail. The fact that our brain sciences are so new and revolutionary underscores how unexpected their findings were and still are, and how unlike the first-person introspective world to which we all have immediate access and with which we are all intimately acquainted.”

“We must somehow reconceptualize our understandings of both mind and matter in such a way that we recognize them as different forms of the same substance, a new substance. What we really need is a novel way of looking at substance itself, one that permits us to appreciate substance as the very fabric of reality and of which both mind and matter are instances.”

“We live in materialistic times where hard science and cold objectivity seem to relegate spirituality and religion to the margins. It is sometimes difficult to reconcile spirituality with hard science, and it is not uncommon that scientific evidence is brought in to tear down certain religious articles of faith. I promise the reader that the theory I present in this book is in principle fully compatible with science and therefore allows us to embrace a holistic view of reality that encompasses both scientific fact and a spirituality that complements it.”

“The purpose of this chapter is to outline the thick scientific soil in which [my theory] is rooted. The scientific bases for a philosophy of mind ought to be, and in the case of [my theory] indeed are, none other than the neurosciences. In this chapter, therefore, we will cover the extraordinary breadth of neurological facts that have been uncovered during the past century.”

“...there seem to be two, possibly mutually exclusive, forces at work, if not in connection with overt behavior, then at least with respect to mental states. We will begin Chapter 4, ‘The Basic Theory of Mind and Matter,’ by acknowledging that the brain is a deterministic system that governs our behavior, and that it also seems as if the mind plays the very same role. We will recognize this as a paradox and set out to resolve it; [my theory] will provide the solution.”

“What does all this mean? It means that sensations only begin in the brain, but they go through much development thereafter. Naive realism, as described above, would have us believe that sensations end at the brain, and that full awareness begins immediately at that point, that is, that sensations are the function of the sense organs and awareness is the function of the brain. According to naive realism, if an individual brushes a hand across a fine texture, that feeling resides on the epidermis. A signal will be sent to the brain, of course, but all that happens once it reaches the brain is that we become aware of the feeling. The complexity and detail of the sensation come prepackaged, so to speak, gathered from the real world at the very start of the process and therefore leaving little work for the brain to do except to be conscious of the sensation. In other words, naive realism (at least on this rendition) gives us a black and white picture: the senses either give us the information or they don't; the brain either enables our awareness of the information or it doesn't. However, discussing damage to the various sections [of the brain] reminds us that once this information enters the brain, it goes through much more development before we actually become aware of what we are in fact experiencing.... There is much continuity, and the distinctions between the sense organs and the brain, between sensation and consciousness, are blurred.”

“In the following paragraphs, we will begin to outline a general paradigm in which we can say as much as is possible about mental experiences, human or not: we shall outline the defining characteristics that all experiences share. We will eventually come to the point where we can formally define this sense of ‘experience,’ and we shall use this definition in a formal statement that describes the correlation between mind and brain.”

“It seems that if the universe is to exist at all, regardless of what form it takes, there has to be something that provides for its existence, and this something must be capable of existing independently of anything else.... Enter meaning. I intend to show how meaning can serve as such a basis. I will begin by showing how it does this in the neurosciences and then how meaning can be extended to all natural phenomena.”

“So why should the brain stand out in the family of material objects as the only thing in the universe capable of consciousness? What's so special about a neuron that it should be associated with mental experiences? When it comes down to it, neuromatter is made out of the same stuff as rocks, tables, and tin cans, namely, molecules. Is it possible that brains aren't the only things in the universe to come with minds?”

“So, it is reasonable to describe the flow of experience as correlated with the underlying laws of physics as manifested in the brain rather than with the neurological activity in the brain. It is not wrong to say that experience correlates with neurological activity; rather, we have fleshed out a further correlation. Can we push the correlation even further?”

“In short, our theory seems to imply something counterintuitive—that we are all one consciousness and should feel as one—whereas in fact, we feel like individuals. My mind is not your mind, and neither of our minds belong to anything else in the universe except us. This is what I call the ‘Paradox of Individuality.’... In this chapter, we will resolve this paradox.”

Figures and Diagrams

Figure 29: Example diagrams of experiences

Figure 31: The flow from experiences at various levels in Reality to human sensation to human thought

Flow into Knowledge

Figure 8: Example of a hypercolumn
Figure 4c: The lobes of the brain

Figure 30: The correlation between meaning and natural law

Figure 32: Reducing the physical reductive hierarchy to the experiential reductive hierarchy, and then to meaning

Catch Phrases

Consciousness is the being of the brain.

Mind is the brain-in-itself.

Physicality is a sensory representation of a greater mental universe.

The true nature of reality is semantic.

An economization of philosophical disciplines is in order: the study of consciousness and the study of ontology are the same.

If the brain is the cause of behavior, the mind is the reason.

Mind is a justifying power.

Matter is contingent, mind is necessary.

There is not a divide between phenomena and noumena, but one between phenomena and more phenomena.

There is no object that isn't subject.

It is like something to be.